Joe Hart

📚Books I Read In 2022

Through the combined powers of Audible and “buying physical books so I can’t forget I have them” I managed to make a larger dent in reading in 2022 than many years previous. This is a loosely categorised and entirely unordered list of what I read with some thoughts attached to them.

The thoughts aren’t reviews, more reflections, or vibes I guess.

I’ve loosely organised them into some categories, some straddle between a few of them so I’ve plopped them where it feels right.

🚀 Sci-Fi Fantasy

Sci-fi is my bread and butter when it comes to reading. I think literature can do great sci-fi better than any other medium out there, which is why I keep finding myself being drawn to the genre.

After reading a whole bunch of Asimov and Dan Simmons in 2021 I wanted to branch out from just “western bloke” sci-fi and to other places. And wow did it pay off in what I picked up this year.

Xenogenesis Trilogy (1987) by Octavia Butler

What if when humanity was actively wiping itself out with nuclear weapons an alien race was passing by and tried to save humanity?

Like an endangered species the Oankali take humans from their natural habitat and attempt to domesticate and improve them by their own standards.

The best trilogy I’ve read in a long time and the freshest sci-fi I have read in a very long time. It feels like it could have been written yesterday, there’s just so much humanity poured into such a slim volume. Butler explores imperialism, consent, agency and fundamentally human nature.

Even if you aren’t into sci-fi the first book, Dawn, is a book I’d recommend to anyone. It would have been my book of the year if I hadn’t read Piranesi.

Parable of the Sower (1993) by Octavia Butler

This was recommended to me by a friend whose book club recently read it, and coming hot off the heels of Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy I was more than on board to read it.

A significantly more grounded sci-fi tale than the adventures of Lillith’s Brood, it again feels like it could have been written today. Paired with reading Dawn this book gives us a clear look at how Butler viewed humanity, its fundamental flaws and its perseverance at times.

By introducing each chapter with quotes from the future religion of Earthseed this story about pure human survival is painted on a grand canvas. There are times when you’re nodding along to Lauren, the author of Earthseed’s first text, agreeing with her worldview and then becoming a tad anxious about where this could all lead.

There is a sequel I’m keen to read, though the trilogy was left unfinished. I am also worried about storming ahead too quickly and running out of Butler to read.

Remembrance of Earth’s Past Trilogy (2014) by Cixin Liu

Book covers of The Three-body Problem, The Dark Forest and Death's End

It’s capital “H” Hard Sci-Fi, but so good. Such a wonderful read, try to know as little as possible going in for the best experience. Devoured it in two days and immediately ordered the other two in the trilogy.

I know a lot of people though who couldn’t stand it, so your mileage may vary.

Like a lot of trilogies, it gets flabbier and generally less compelling as the series continues.

There are some really weird tangents about masculinity in the second book that come out of nowhere. This is absolutely “China’s Foundation Trilogy” in terms of both the scope of the series and also the underwritten women in the books.

The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet (2014) by Becky Chambers

This has featured in a lot of “sci-fi you should read” lists over the last few years and is often framed as “softer sci-fi”, or more “character-focused sci-fi”. These caveats are always said with a slight chip on their shoulder as if by having a cast of lovable and empathetic characters it somehow doesn’t have the tantalising “what if” magic of sci-fi.

This is rubbish, this book is a great space sci-fi novel with exciting ideas about space travel, alien species, trade and war and is also full of characters whom you’ll learn to love.

The only caveat I have is it is on the “slice of life” side of fiction, so if that isn’t your jam you might find the narrative unsatisfying. However, I loved it. I can’t wait to sink myself into the rest of this charming series.

The Algebraist (2004) by Iain M Banks

This is a book I tried to read as a kid and just couldn’t push through it. Primarily this is a book of really cool ideas, about ancient life in gas giants, about interstellar society. I know it’s common wisdom to rave about Banks’ Culture novels, but I think this is a lovely fully formed whole meal of a book.

If you’re looking for a heady hard sci-fi book that is a one-off, then this is for you.

🏳️‍🌈 Queer Fiction

The Henna Wars (2020) by Adiba Jaigirdar

This was just very wholesome, two girls set up rival Henna businesses and fall in love. Solid, heart warming, YA romance.

She Who Became The Sun (2021) by Shelley Parker-Chan

Good fantasy fun with a queer angle. Think “Mulan but more magic, lesbianism and gender bending”. Very enjoyable, didn’t know it was a series before going into it and am now impatiently waiting for the next one.

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

This was the first book I got in my subscription from Common Press, a wonderful queer bookshop in East London. This book made me feel a lot, it follows the life of a young woman discovering her queerness under the backdrop of the Nigerian Civil War.

It was a wonderful read, but be ready to feel quite a lot of despair throughout it. There’s as close to a resolution as the writer could morally conjure for the ending of the book’s characters. Though you are then hit with the sobering summary of the current state of queer rights in Nigeria.

The Greatest Thing (2022) by Sarah Winifred Searle

Whenever I’m browsing through the monthly comics/graphic novel previews on Forbidden Planet, I’ll see a book with a cover and a vague description where it doesn’t explicitly say it’s a queer comic but it has that vibe.

Sometimes when the comic arrives months later I am disappointed to read a perfectly compelling but alas no-queer story (I’m looking at you This One Summer). This however was the complete opposite, it’s so fucking queer and it’s great. My absolute weakness in book buying is charming, friendly and queer comics.

Our Colors (2022) by Gengoroh Tagame

My Brother’s Husband (2017) completely ruined me, which was the award-winning first-ever safe-for-work creation of Gengoroh Tagame.

So when I saw a new manga from him in the previews I immediately ordered it. This time around it doesn’t have that same kind of guttural punch and isn’t such an in-depth exploration of Japan’s cultural attitudes to homosexuality.

However, it is very charming. Nothing too amazing, or too extreme happens it’s just very lovely. The visual metaphors used throughout for being in the closet and pretending to be straight are as funny as they are saddening.

If you haven’t read My Brother’s Husband, pick that up first but if you have this is a lovely chilled-out follow-up.

💥 Graphic Novels/Comics

Superman (2016) by Peter J Tomasi and Patrick Gleason

This is the good shit. If you’re curious to see what “making the big blue boy scout work for modern audiences” looks like, it’s this run. I read the omnibus version, but you can read it on the DC app or pick up the trade paperbacks.

This sees classic Superman enter a new phase of life, raising a son and coming back out into the world after some time in hiding.

It’s got time-travelling dinosaurs, it’s got Lex Luthor, it’s got feel-good lines about truth and justice.

What a vibe.

Something Is Killing the Children (2020) by James Tynion IV, Werther Dell’edera and Miquel Muerto

What if Stranger Things were darker, more people died and there was a secret society of monster hunters?

Oh - also - to join the society of monster hunters you trap the monster under your bed in a teddy bear for threatening paranormal advice.

James Tynion IV is now one of those comic authors where I’ll pick up pretty much anything he writes by default now.

Batman (2013) by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

I’ve not really ever been a Batman person, but these two omnibuses made me into one. After only really consuming the Nolan-esque dark and gritty batman, this run sees a grumpy batman paired with his classic comic-book-ey elements.

There’s a bat-blimp at one point, what more could you ask for?!

Fantastic Four (2010) by Jonathan Hickman, Sean Chen, Dale Eaglesham, Steve Epting, Nick Dragotta, Neil Edwards

The above comic books are very much accessible enough for really anyone to pick up and enjoy, and I recommend you do! This however is layered in comic-book weirdness and continuity treats.

Jonathan Hickman wrote my favourite ever comic, East of West, and since I read that I’ve been delving back into his older Marvel back catalogue.

This run builds up to the mega-event Secret Wars and does a lot of the things only long-term serialized storytelling can do. There are payoffs set up here that only come to fruition deep into his Avengers run (which is also great).

Similar to Scott Snyder’s Batman, this has made me into a Fantastic Four person despite never being one before.

✍️ Biography

This Much is True (2021) by Miriam Margolyes

Miriam Margolyes is a marmite kinda person, if you like her get the audiobook and you’ll have a whale of a time.

💡 Non-Fiction

Hiroshima (1946) by John Hersey

Because I’m stupid, my response to reading about risks of nuclear war in the news was to try and read as much as possible about it.

This is one of those books that has such visceral imagery and is so horrific on its own and then you remember it’s non-fiction and your stomach turns.

I feel like it’s an important book to read since most I’ve ever read about the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan were about the scientists who made them, the generals who ordered them to be dropped and the political fall-out after the fact.

This is about the people on the ground on the day, a few of them survivors and the culture and communities that span out from those events.

Sorry I’m Late I Didn’t Want To Come (2019) by Jessica Pan

This was pretty light and harmless, more biography than self-help. It was nice hearing about the author’s journey to a better understanding of what she enjoyed and what she didn’t.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book, but I wouldn’t not recommend it either.

Stolen Focus (2022) by Johann Hari

Ironically I saw a plug for this while scrolling Twitter. It is a timely look at exactly why we feel we can’t do any deep focus anymore with some good stories and anecdotes thrown in.

It is a deeply realistic take on the state of the attention economy, and because of that a fairly depressing take. There is no solution here for the individual, this is a descriptive account of how bad things are written with lovely prose.

Now for most people, I’d probably say it’s not necessarily worth reading. Though for those of us working in tech, I’d say it’s essential. Books like this are key to making sure we understand the impact of the work we do.

Lost Connections (2018) by Johann Hari

This is a book I’m conflicted about a great deal. On the one hand, I spent a lot of it nodding along to the author. Yes, our sense of community has diminished, meaningful connections are harder than ever to create and maintain, and we probably are over-prescribing medication for mental illness. However, I dislike the effect this book can have sometimes.

It can result in a wholesale dismissal of any and all medical interventions for mental health issues that could be a little dangerous.

Like a lot of things, the uncomfortable reality is a murky grey area.

Ultimately a compelling read with a lot to chew over and I think worth reading even though I don’t agree with a lot of stuff in there.

⛔️ DNFs

This year I only had two books that I did not finish(DNF), both for completely different reasons.

Effortless (2021) by Greg McKeown

Overly short, barely anything to say, regurgitating ideas from other people in shorter and less compelling ways. A complete waste of money and time. If only he’d put a little more effort into Effortless.

For me to DNF a 7-hour-long self-help audio book is pretty rare for me, that’s how bad it is.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf (2019) by Marlon James

This was the complete opposite issue, I enjoyed this. The setting was compelling, and the queer elements of the characters and the language was so well put together. However, it was written in such a clever style I wished it would get out of its own way and just let the characters and setting flourish. This is absolutely what happens when a Booker Prize winner writes a fantasy novel. For some people, that’s a dream. However, for my fickle brain, it was just a bit too uphill to get finished.

❤️ Favourite Book of the Year

Piranesi (2021) by Susanna Clarke

I am going to tell you absolutely nothing about this book because that’s how I picked it up and I think it’s the best way to go into it.

It’s not very long, it’s a wonderful little puzzle of a book. Also, the audiobook narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor is sublime.